East Germany Admits Responsibility for Nazi Crimes, Offers Compensation

East Germany has for the first time formally acknowledged its share of responsibility for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and affirmed that it has material obligations toward them, the World Jewish Congress announced here Thursday.

The dramatic reversal of a 40-year policy of denial was contained in a letter from Prime Minister Hans Modrow of the German Democratic Republic to WJC President Edgar Bronfman. The WJC said it was “an important first step.”

Modrow’s statement was also welcomed as “a first step” by Dr. Israel Miller, president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Miller has been in recent communications with Modrow on the issue.

Modrow’s letter to the WJC, dated Feb. 1 was accompanied by an official declaration by the prime minister containing the same points which he said “might be published immediately.”

It stated that the GDR recognizes “the responsibility of the entire German people” for the crimes of the Nazis and that it commits itself to “material support” to the Jewish victims.

The responsibility, Modrow’s letter and statement noted, “is a consequence of the deep guilt of Hitler fascism which committed terrible crimes against the Jewish people in the name of the German people.”

Modrow said that East Germany “recognizes its humanitarian duty with regard to the survivors of the Jewish people who suffered under Nazi oppression, and confirms its readiness in a spirit of human solidarity to provide material support to former persecutees of the Nazi regime of Jewish origin.”

VOWS TO PREVENT ANTI-SEMITISM

The letter also vowed that East Germany would do everything it can to prevent anti-Semitism and hatred from again taking root in German soil.

It invited Bronfman to “an early meeting” with the prime minister “in order to further our common aims.”

The WJC said Bronfman would leave for Israel next week to discuss with its leaders further steps in the implementation of the East German declaration.

“The acceptance of the GDR of its historic moral responsibility is an important first step,” the WJC said.

“Its stated commitment of ‘material support’ to Jewish victims of the Nazi regime requires appropriate and speedy indemnification by the GDR as the necessary next step” the WJC added.

Miller said he met recently with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Finance Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens to coordinate future negotiations on claims issues both by Israel and the Claims Conference, which acts on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

Nearly 40 years ago — in 1951 — the late Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany declared that “unspeakable crimes have been committed in the name of the German people calling for moral and material indemnity.”

That statement was followed by the Luxembourg agreement negotiated between the Claims Conference and the German. Federal Republic in 1952.

It became the foundation of the massive indemnification program of West Germany amounting to billions of dollars in reparations to the state of Israel, Jewish organizations and individual Jewish claimants.

The Claims Conference currently administers a special hardship fund for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

It has already distributed about $250 million to some 80,000 recipients, most of whom emigrated in recent years from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

In contrast, East Germany had, until Mod-row’s statement, rejected any share of responsibility for the Holocaust and refused to accept any obligation of material support to the victims.

The GDR maintained that since it only came into existence in 1949, it bore no responsibility for the actions of the Third Reich.

NEXT STORY